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Sun 1 Apr 2007 02:14 PM

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Getting personal

Leisure Manager speaks to three personal trainers about the different approaches they take to make sure clients achieve their goals.

The intuitive approach

Nikolai Vachev, personal trainer at The Aviation Club in Dubai, personalises his programmes according to the anatomical, physiological and psychological requirements of his clients to create a programme that is "one hundred percent dedicated to the specific needs of each and every individual".

"If someone is under stress, for example, you have to design the programme so that it focuses on relaxation and ‘switching off' as opposed to being very pressured and demanding. They don't need any additional stress, and physical stress still impacts on the emotions," he explains.

Vachez has a client base that comprises a fairly equal mix of men and women, many of whom work at businesses in the fitness centre's local vicinity. He is sensitive to the fact that many of his clients have usually had a hard day at work before hitting the gym for a workout.

"I believe it's very important to read the clients," he says. "Some clients are a little tricky - they'll try to use excuses to get out of doing the things they don't like.

"You have to try to read the signals to work out whether they're just trying to slack off or whether they want to work but really are too exhausted and drained. You can see it in their behaviour and body language more than in what they say."

He preaches flexibility when dealing with clients that have heavy business and social schedules: "You don't have to stick to the programme religiously - it is a guideline and you can alter it when you have to. Perhaps the client has jetlag, or has been under a lot of pressure, working on a big project or towards an important deadline - you have to ask a lot of questions to work out what's really going on with them.

"Actions speak louder than words, however, and you can see when they are physically struggling to do something that they can usually do without any problem."

But Vachez is no soft touch and knows that sometimes it's necessary to get tough with clients that are getting lazy. "It's all about the non-verbal dialect. It's a balancing act," he says.

Initial fitness assessments also need to be handled delicately in some cases, Vachez acknowledges, as all the measuring, weighing, probing questions and intense scrutiny can be extremely traumatic for certain clients.

"While a reference point is important to guide what we do, the fitness assessment is not strictly necessary," he says.

"People know if they're overweight or are not very fit, and there's no point rubbing it in their face. Some people silently scream inside when you start talking about how fat or unhealthy they are.

"Just asking the right health questions can prevent the client from having such an embarrassing experience that they never want to set foot back in the gym," he says.

"My thing is to first get people into the gym and then to get them coming back regularly. That's the most important thing."

The motivational speaker

The Mövenpick Bur Dubai's Rooftop Fitness Centre attracts mainly young, male Dubai residents - both Arab Nationals and expatriates - as well as a few European ladies and a small percentage of in-house guests.

Even in such a diverse client base, motivation is the common factor that underlies the decision to work with a personal trainer, according to recreation manager Daniel Morariu.

"For a lot of people, just making it to the gym is a big challenge. They need to feel under pressure to actually go there," he explains.

"Knowing that a personal trainer is there, waiting for them, is a motivational factor that works well for many of them."

Morariu knows that making false promises is no way to egg clients on. The secret, he says, is patience, persuasion and perseverance.

"Not everyone is Claudia Schiffer," he says. "We do not all have the same physiological make-up. Instead of applying a textbook method, a personal trainer needs to give clients the right nutritional information and the right workout for their body, and to set them realistic goals."

Morariu won't accept any excuses: "No time to workout? I have other options available for my guests. My job as a personal trainer is to push the limits for the clients, to find solutions so that they can do the workout at home, in the office, or anywhere else."

He does acknowledge that the frantic pace of life in Dubai, and in the Middle East's other major cities, poses a few challenges, however.

"To motivate someone to achieve their personal goals, you need to help them to have the right attitude, and to actually enjoy a workout at least two or three times a week. It has got to be fun, not torture," he says.

"I always prepare a few games to make the workout more enjoyable for each person, and a smiling face and positive thinking do a long way," he adds.

Whether a client only needs one session to set them on the right track, or whether they need to work with a personal trainer for several months to really get into the habit of exercising - and even for the few people that require the motivational influence from a trainer indefinitely - there is one important rule to remember, according to Morariu.

"It is not just about pushing someone hard. As a personal trainer, you are in the position to have a lasting, positive influence your customers, and to educate them," he says.

"A true success story is a client that is motivated and eager to stay fit and healthy. That really is a true win-win situation."

The positive mental attitude

Anything's possible. That's the message Manny Durmiendo, senior personal trainer at Wafi City's Pharaohs' Club fitness centre, likes to give his clients.

Durmiendo is adamant that a positive approach is the key to success for both trainer and client. "Personal training needs a lot of talent, dedication and charisma," he says.

The majority of Durmiendo's clients are women wanting to lose weight and tone up. The men, on the other hand, generally prefer to bulk up.

Either way, he says, his methods guarantee success.

All it takes is to find a way to get each and every client "hooked" on achieving their personal fitness objectives, he says.

"This is the most challenging part of the job. I try to make the workout interesting and fun so that I'll keep them coming back for more sessions.

"I always remind them to stick with the personalised programme I have designed for them, no matter what."

This method has yielded more than a few good results. He illustrates this claim with the example of a particularly memorable success story.

"[One Emirati client] trained with me under specialised program for six months. At his first evaluation, he was weak and skinny but, after intense training, he built 10kg of muscle mass and his body shape changed dramatically," he says. "His self-confidence and overall lifestyle improved as well."

It is stories like these that keep Durmiendo fired up: "It makes me happy to see people excited about what they have achieved. Clients looking great and feeling good inside and out is the most rewarding thing about the job."

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